Death sentence as birthday gift
By GODWIN TSA, VINCENT KALU and HENRY OKONKWO
AFTER 10 years of protracted legal battle, the Supreme Court yesterday affirmed the death sentence passed on the founder and General Overseer of Christian Praying Assembly, Rev. Chukwuemeka Ezeugo, a.k.a Rev. King by a Lagos High Court which sentenced him to death by hanging. Same judgment had been upheld by the Appeal court.
Unfortunately, the sad news of the ruling yesterday came on a day the convicted preacher was to mark his birthday, thus turning the day to a bad day for him instead of a birthday.
The apex court in a unanimous judgment dismissed his appeal against the judgment of the lower courts for lacking in merit. Justice Sylvester Nwuta who read the lead judgment after reviewing the facts of the case noted that it could have been lifted from a horror film.
For instance, he revealed that the appellant who was arraigned on September 26, 2006 on a six-count charge of attempted murder and murder accused six of his members of immoral behaviour, called them together and made them to kneel down before he directed that fuel be poured on them and set them ablaze.
Justice Nwuta noted that the appellant in his defence claimed that the fire that consumed the victims emanated from a generating set “but this mysterious generating set was never presented in court as evidence.”
The court therefore resolved all the 12 issues raised in the appeal against the appellant and consequently hold “that the appeal was beret of merit and hereby dismissed. The judgment of the lower court sentencing the appellant to death by hanging is hereby affirmed. However, the prison term is no longer relevant in view of the death sentence.”
Rev. Ezeugo was arraigned on a six-count charge of attempted murder of six church members and murder of one.
According to the prosecution counsel and the Lagos State Director of Public Prosecution, Mrs. Idowu Alakija, the convict poured petrol on the deceased and five other persons, struck a match, setting them ablaze and that Uzoh died on August 2, 2006; 11 days after the act was perpetrated on her.
She told the court that while Chiejina Olise, Chizoba Onuorah, Vivian Ezeocha, Jessica Nwene, and Kosisochukwu Ezenwankwo sustained serious burns; Ann Uzor did not survive.
Doctors said that Ms. Uzor died of Hypovolemic shock – an emergency condition in which severe blood and fluid loss make the heart unable to pump enough blood.
The judges said that the testimonies of the witnesses painted a “dastardly and nefarious” role by Mr. Ezeugo on July 22, 2006.
He pleaded not guilty to the allegation but was sentenced to death by the then Justice Joseph Oyewole of Lagos State High Court, Ikeja, on January 11, 2007. The trial Court had found the cleric guilty on the first five counts of attempted murder and sentenced him to 20 years with hard labour on each count. The sentences were to run concurrently. But on the sixth count of murder, Justice Oyewole sentenced the defendant to death by hanging.
Dissatisfied, the convict approached the court of Appeal to set aside the judgment of the trial court. On June 10, 2008, the Court of Appeal granted Mr. Ezeugo leave to file an appeal over his sentencing.
At the end of the day, his appeal was thrown out by the Court of Appeal which upheld the judgment of the trial court.
Justice Fatimo Akinbami who read the judgment of the appellate court held “I hereby rule that the prosecution effectively discharged the burden of proof on it. This appeal is devoid of any basis and accordingly fails.”
“The judgment of the High Court is hereby affirmed, and the conviction imposed on the appellant, (which is death by hanging) is also affirmed,” Justice Fatima Akinbami who read the judgement held. Two other members of the panel of Justices, Amina Augie and Ibrahim Saulawa, concurred with the lead judgment.
Justice Akinbami held that the evidence of the prosecution, during the trial, was “overwhelming and damning” and proved beyond reasonable doubt that the convict committed the crimes he was arraigned for.
“The judgment of justice Joseph Oyewole of a Lagos High Court, on 11th January 2007 is hereby affirmed,” said Justice Akinbami, who headed the three man panel of judges.
In a two hour long ruling, Akinbami said that after “painstakingly and meticulously” looking into the judgment of the lower court; she discovered that Mr. Ezeugo, rather than protecting and guiding his followers, resorted to setting them ablaze.
“I must state that the conduct of the appellant (Mr. Ezeugo) was indeed sad and unfortunate,” Akinbami said, adding that
“Instead of offering his followers bread, he gave them stone. When they demanded for fish, he gave them scorpion.”
Saturday Sun findings showed that the apex court ruling on Friday dealt a devastating blow on Rev King’s followers who saw the affirmation of the death sentence on their leader as a bad birthday gift to him and his entire Christian Praying Assembly (CPA).
It was gathered that the headquarters of the church at Ugo Nnabife Street, Ajao Estate, Lagos, was already planning a big birthday thanksgiving service for their founder tomorrow.
Reacting to the development, Dozie King, one of the church’s ministers, told Saturday Sun, that the Sunday thanksgiving service will however hold, adding that the court verdict is the judgment of man, which would not stand in the fullness of time.
Saturday Sun gathered that some of the members have bought goats, chickens, bags of rice and other gifts to celebrate their GO’s birthday on Friday. When the news of the Supreme Court ruling filtered in, the gates of the church were locked and the premises deserted.
His imposing photograph on a large flex banner hangs on outside wall of the church, and a member with empty jerry can, who was probably going to fetch water walked to King’s picture, knelt down and touched it and made a sign of the cross before walking away. He told one of our reporters that Rev King is Jesus Christ no matter what the world and the courts are saying or doing against him.
Dozie King said the reason the gates were closed and no one was in the church yesterday afternoon was because the church usually holds prayer vigil every Thursday and closes on Friday morning and thereafter the gates are closed.
Another member of the church, Brady Chijioke Nwosu, while toeing the line of Dozie, said that the court verdict was the judgment of man, which will not stand, stressing that it is not out of place for Rev King to be betrayed and persecuted like Jesus Christ, even as he maintained that the convict was innocent of the murder charge.
According to him, “ Rev King must live. Let the secular world do theirs and God will do His and the best”, just as he narrated how all the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ died while upholding their faith.
Rev King’s neighbours were also seen going about their regular business with seeming indifference. Although some of the residents claim not to know anything about the antecedents of the cleric because they moved into the area after his incarceration, others that encountered him told Saturday Sun on condition of anonymity, that since his arrest the neighbourhood has known relative peace. They said he was a terror as they recounted his reign of terror in the area.
“There is no sin that cannot be forgiven by God if only the sinner humbles himself. Many of us, the neighbours were affected by his violent conducts,” a neighbour told Saturday Sun, adding that, “I was personally affected when they beat up my wife. That day I went out and returned to see CPA members beating up my wife. They almost stripped her naked until she escaped to the Police station. They also descended on me too. The police demanded that I should get a medical report on her condition, which I got at Isolo General Hospital. I wanted to press charges but my extended family members warned and pressured me not to do so for security reasons. But I have since forgiven him”.
Another neighbour said the law should take its course. “The man was a god to himself and to his members. I’ve been living here since 2001, and I live very close to the church. So, I know a lot about their activities. There was an incident that happened one day, when I came to enjoy some fresh air outside the street. I saw many CPA members stack naked taking their baths outside the church on the streets in broad daylight. It was an obscene sight because I saw both old and young all lined up on the streets taking their baths. I try to avoid them as much as possible because their members could be very violent and could attack you if you cross their path”.
Also another neighbour stated that the members strongly believe that the Supreme Court judgment would favour Rev King. “He could come back and create more havoc on the neighbourhood. There was a time he was briefly released from Panti, that day, his members went wild and naked in celebration, so I wonder what would have happened if the Supreme Court had ruled in his favour today (Yesterday). Many of them believed the judgment would favour him. Many a times we notice some of them bowing and praying before his picture on their big signpost mounted in front of the church’s gate. The orientation the members got was that he ( Rev King) has intentionally refused to come out of prison because he’s there on a special mission and that he would return soon”.
While in prison, Rev King still prepares his sermons and messages, which are sent to all branches of the church in Nigeria and abroad. According to members, unusual miracles ranging from deliverance, supernatural healings, breakthroughs, take place during such sermons.
Some of the men still mimic his personality, especially his bears and clean-shaved head, while some still maintain King, as their surnames.
Dozie King, also told Saturday Sun that before Rev King went to prison about nine years ago, the church had less than 60 branches, but now it has over 200 branches in different continents.
He said, the reason that the church was not even praying for Rev King is because no one can pray for God, since their leader is the Christ that has come the second time, stressing that, as it is written, people will not recognise him.